Forget, for a minute, about moral arguments over speaking te reo Māori in public. Whether you think we should all embrace te reo, or push it to the recesses of the wardrobe, is significant but not the crux of this argument.
Instead, I want to make the business case for the Māori language. Why it benefits all of us in Aotearoa to practise inclusiveness when it comes to walking the talk.
A report released earlier this year pegged the Māori economy in 2018 at nearly $69 billion. That's up from the previously estimated $42.6b. Only about $2.2b of that money came from Te Tiriti (Treaty of Waitangi) settlements, according to the report.
The same document, Te Ōhanga Māori 2018, said more than 100,000 more Māori exist in the workforce today than eight years ago. A ''kia ora'' or ''morena'' at work is not only a way to acknowledge Māori colleagues, it also indicates we have the capacity to incorporate new vocabulary and new ideas.
If we can learn a new procedure, database system or process at work, home or school, why can't we learn a few phrases from tangata whenua?
While only an estimated 1 per cent of New Zealanders are said to speak te reo proficiently, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in Aotearoa who didn't know some words of Māori. Pōwhiri, koha, kia ora and whānau are rarely translated, because anyone who has lived here longer than a month likely knows what they mean.
Pākehā often speak as if progress for Māori is a zero-sum game. It's the idea that gains for Māori can only come at the expense of Pākehā. Alongside the growing influence of biculturalism, we have low (4.7 per cent) unemployment and gains in consumer, manufacturer and wholesale spending. By many economic measures, Aotearoa as a whole is doing well, though Pākehā are still outliving and out earning Māori.
Whether to embrace biculturalism or reject it depends largely on your definition of public interest. Social science tells us there's a racialised idea about who the public is. Are Māori public? Are foreign-born Kiwi residents public? Or are New Zealand-born Pākehā the only public whose culture and language matter?
You would have to be a snowflake to object to a few words of Māori spoken in a public meeting. No, dear ratepayer, the heat of the unfamiliar will not cause you to melt.
According to Te Ara, the encyclopedia of New Zealand, this country was unofficially monocultural, "with government policies favouring Pākehā" until the 1980s. "Since then, the Māori renaissance has led to a renewed emphasis on biculturalism, based on the partnership established between Māori and the Crown by the Treaty of Waitangi."
If, as some people suggest, biculturalism is a fad, the "flavour of the month," it's one that started in 1840 with the Treaty. Biculturalism is, by law and by growing custom, the flavour of every month in Aotearoa.
Back to the idea embracing te reo and diversity is good for business: I've interviewed many Māori business directors who credit the success of their export operations not only to the quality of their products, but also to te ao Māori - the Māori world view which prioritises care of people and the planet while still turning a profit. Somewhere between "My country first" populists and "No justice, no peace" civil-rights activists, a large swath of mainstream folks are spending up large to support indigenous cultures. They're buying increasing amounts of Kono wine at Trader Joe's in the States and Onuku manuka honey at health food stores throughout North America.
There's been a boom in people taking Māori language classes, evidenced by a growing number of learning opportunities and wait lists to enter existing programmes. After a decade of living here, I finally signed on to a course. Mostly, I wanted to improve my pronunciation, string together basic sentences, and deliver mihi and karakia without too much fumbling.
My Tuesday evening class includes a pilot, healthcare professionals and educators' some classmates want to improve their te reo to pass along to their children; others want to better interact with patients, students and the wider community. We are learning about Māori culture and about ourselves as we shake off our mistakes. We keep trying.
Just like Taranaki farmers Jane and Damian Roper. What started as an effort to learn to pronounce Māori has led them to learn te reo and build a pā on their farm. The couple have no Māori ancestry, but felt inspired after learning more about te ao Māori.
"All those values of looking after the land, and the waterways, soil, the trees, and how everything is connected, inspired us to build the Tuwatawata Pā" Damian told Māori Television last month.
If you want to better understand someone's culture, study their language. I took three years of French in high school before living as a student in Luxembourg. I learned Luxembourgish during my exchange year because I wanted to understand my classmates when they spoke amongst themselves.
You don't have to learn te reo to appreciate te ao Māori. Concepts such as respecting the land, respecting elders and working in community benefit everyone.
Also, $69b is nothing to sneeze at.
He waka eke noa. We're all in this canoe together.